Saturday 26 November 2022

What to Wear 13

Upper Upwards wear a lot of cashmere in subtle colours. Samantha Upward buys her jerseys (never a "jumper" or "sweater") from ebay, and sometimes dyes them with Dylon or natural dyes like onion skins, tea and blackberries. The garments are old, and wear through quickly or get eaten by moths, but you can always buy more. You can even cut out squares from the uneaten bits, machine them together and turn them into another garment.

Here’s a list of very upmarket items you didn’t know you needed. 

Cashmere wash
Cashmere brush
Yacht varnish
Escargot tongs
Grape scissors
Mink storage closet
Marble polish
Silver champagne trug
Cordless hoover for your yurt
Curry comb for the alpacas

Per the Times, Nov 2022, middle-class parents dress and accessorise their children entirely in “sad beige”. This extends to dolls, toys and even mugs and plates. But as Jilly Cooper points out, “All little girls are lower middle class” (Class, 1975). Aged six, I wanted to wear a tutu all the time, and see-through plastic high heels, and wave a pink plastic miniature umbrella printed with ballerinas. Mum disdained shop-bought fancy dress – she always made ours, without consulting us, so we were forced to wear a humiliating cracker costume instead of what we wanted – something pretty.

Kate Long (@volewriter) is fighting the good fight against small boys’ clothes plastered with dinosaurs and spaceships, while girls’ clothes are pink and decorated with mottos like LOVE or PRINCESS. She’s right to be indignant, but this is also a class thing. Clothes covered in slogans, feathers, rhinestones, pink plastic beads and a unicorn appliqué are naff. But I always wanted organdie, gauze and net. And multiple flounces. And I still want to meet Prince Charming.

Again quoting Jilly Cooper: when working class men go tieless, they spread their shirt collar neatly over the lapels of their jacket. There was a fad a few years ago for middle-class men to lose the ties, but they were awkward and half-hearted about it. They just took the tie off and the shirt collar looked empty and untidy. I think the trend has passed.

Who was Liz Truss's stylist? Women politicians are going for dresses in block colours, rather than suits. It's a uniform: safe but dull, skirts to mid-calf, featuring the kind of drapery over the bust that used to be recommended to large ladies circa 1955. Truss has an hourglass figure, and nobody advised her to adopt the Bessie Braddock armoured corset. But in a short skirt her curtsey would have looked even more uncertain. 

Are Fair Isle jumpers a sign of frumpy nerdiness? Aran jumpers probably the same, though they had a moment in the 70s.

Sam buys an outfit for her daughter’s wedding, but shudders at the term “occasion wear”. Middle-class Jen Teale yearns for the days of the coffee lace two-piece – dress with matching coat. Caro Stow-Crat wears a short jacket with a fishtail midi skirt to hide her legs in the photographs. 

When Jen takes off her jersey, her T shirt never rises with it, exposing her midriff or still worse, bra. She has just learned and rehearsed a method – she probably tucks the shirt into her waistband. 

Sharon Definitely never wears the same designer outfit twice – she buys the garment, tucks in the labels, wears it once and returns it. (Dress hire companies still exist and flourish.)

Don’t tie your jumper or cardigan round your waist, or you’ll look like a child from the council estate – I was told by a girl from the council estate. And pushing up your sleeves "made you look like a washerwoman", said the nuns - especially if you then put your hands on your hips. Folding your arms was out too. (Any gesture that meant your hands touched your body were out – including putting your palms on your thighs when sitting down – these are injunctions that go back to the 18th century.)

Working-class people buy “name brands” to show they can afford them. This means the middle classes shun those brands and buy cheaper generic clothes – or expensive brands that don’t flash their identity. Boden-wearers like to pretend that they spend their entire lives on a deserted white-sand beach.

Caro asks: What happened to “country clothes” and “town clothes”? There was a moment in the 1920s when women could only wear black in town. So if you lived there year-round it would be rather funereal! The answer is that you didn’t live there all year round – you spent most of your time in the country, where you wore tweeds and emphatically no black unless someone had died. There are many restrictive rules about what you can’t wear in the country (high heels, black stockings), but what about the town? It’s full of visitors wearing hiking costume, though there’s still a dress code in the City.

From the 30s to the 50s, ankle-strap shoes were beyond the pale, especially with Cuban heels. But the most vulgar shoes ever are orange plastic kitten-heeled slingbacks with square toes from the mid-60s – worn with a touch of grime on your ankle bone, as Nell Dunn (Up the Junction) observed. Upwards could not wear sexy shoes back then, because they were “bad for your feet”. Probably true.

In the 70s, boots slid down the class ladder (became cheaper and more available), and were adopted by a secretary called Dawn. She had long hair parted in the middle, a vacant smile, a skinny jumper and an A line miniskirt. Her’s boots only reached mid-calf – Upward girls wore boots that came up to the knee (and were probably more expensive). Of course you needed to be slender and long-legged to pull off the Dawn look. She saved for a month to afford her boots. Upward girls never saved, they just ran up an overdraft.

Hercule Poirot’s patent leather shoes, that he thinks are smart and shiny, mark him out as “not one of us”. Yet he can tell that a client is not really a lady because her shoes are cheap and too new. A lady wears “good” (expensive) shoes but then gets a lot of wear out of them. Before patent leather was invented, the aim was to get black leather shoes and boots as shiny as possible – this took a lot of work. In a big house, a boy was employed to clean the household’s shoes. He was known as the “boots”. In the army, a lot of time was spent (wasted) on “bull” – polishing equipment including boots until everything shone. Shoeshine boys in the streets made a good living. But keeping patent leather shiny took hardly any work. Suddenly shiny black shoes were no longer a “sign” of being able to employ someone to spend hours on your appearance, or of having done the hard work yourself.

Upward women can’t dress too sexily – what they'd call "stereotypically feminine". They may wear a more relaxed version of current clothing – nothing too tight, skirts not too short, makeup discreet, hair not too processed, heels not too high. They aim for a natural, healthy, wholesome, practical look (see the Boden catalogue). When this cuts no ice, they may try too hard, but their tight jeans and exposed cleavage will only garner disapproving looks from their female friends. But at least the “natural look” is preferable to the academic bag lady look – layers of flapping garments that entirely conceal the figure. 

In the 70s, pretty girls were referred to as “pre-Raphaelite”. Lank hair, unmade-up face, absence of bra and cheesecloth top were supposed to be deliberately Unsexy, and it was galling when men found these girls attractive. This elfin, waiflike look was only available to the young, small and slight. And these girls didn’t have to be warm, friendly or outgoing, didn’t have to learn one subject of conversation really well, meet people halfway, or make any effort at all. They just had to BE. Lucky things. (Upward advice is always of the "work on yourself" variety – never "get a makeover". That would be far too practical.)

Unlike the British upper middle classes, well-heeled Europeans show off their wealth. They used to wear fur coats, and still sport expensive leather jackets, good handbags with gold chains, well-cut jeans, and leather boots. Their clothes look very new and clean. They go blonde, not grey – honey blonde, since they usually start out with dark hair. 

Labour Party leader Michael Foot did not wear a donkey jacket to the memorial service at the Cenotaph, it was an olive green duffel coat without shoulder protectors. Middle England still woofles that he was disrespectful not to wear the establishment uniform of black or navy Crombie overcoat. And as a Labour leader he just would have worn a donkey jacket, the uniform of the Irish navvy, wouldn't he? But so what if he had? 

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 24 November 2022

What to Wear 12 (In Quotes)

New winter coat has arrived and I am delighted to officially look like I own a chain of 1970s bingo halls. (@GoldenVision90)

According to Twitter, the following are naff:

Babies or small children with their ears pierced.
Wedding and engagement rings in 9-carat gold.
Massive watches.
Gold jewellery on men.

Deck shoes.
White clothes unless T shirts or shirts.
Clothing with the labels on the outside.
Active wear if not actually exercising.

Ugg boots.
Sweet, sickly perfumes.
Men walking around with their tops off at the first sight of sun.
Any form of clothing with obtrusive logos on.

Shoes without socks.
Builder’s bum.
A tartan to which you are not entitled.
Stiletto heels in the country.

Babies dressed as adults, especially in trainers.
Headbands on babies. 

Deliberately unbuttoning the first button on the sleeve of your jacket/coat is a sign of a bounder and a cad.

Janice Turner in The Times laments that this is the fifth summer of milkmaid cosplay. (2022-06-16)

The real decline of Western culture is pyjamas becoming outdoor clothing. (@VeteranGamerUK. He’s right – “athleisure” is pyjamas.)

All that money and power, yet the Queen dresses like a dinner lady at a country wedding. (@anon_opin)

The kind of holiday jewellery you would wear with a kaftan, somewhere hot and exotic: a tangle of necklaces or an armful of bracelets. (Jess Cartner Morley in the Guardian, Aug 2021)

I remember a time when everybody in the Liberties was wearing Burberry. Not realising it was, still is, very common. You would never see Burberry in Rathfarnham, Terenure or Rathgar

A writer-in to Points of View (Sept, 2020) complains that The Repair Shop’s Jay Blades wears a flat cap indoors – in front of ladies!

Does every academic have at least four stripy tops(@DrMagennis)

Dressing slovenly is a super posh thing. See also driving an old banger. People from normal backgrounds don't have such luxuries. (@Otto_English)

My mother is urging me to have my ring ‘upgraded’ because a respectable American middle-class woman needs a bigger diamond. (Dear Prudie,

High fashion dresses have more than a touch of Margot from The Good Life - in evening wine and cheese for the boss mode. (@Amanda_Vickery. Penelope Keith and her dresser used to raid Harrods.)

She had about nine bracelets and bangles, consisting of chains and padlocks, the Major's miniature, and a variety of brass serpents with fiery ruby or tender turquoise eyes, writhing up to her elbow almost, in the most profuse contortions. (William Makepeace Thackeray, A Book of Snobs)

In Hampstead, you must wear sports attire in the morning. Around lunchtime, change into something seasonally appropriate. Gay couples wear matching sunglasses. Gentlemen, if it’s warm then you may wear your jumper over your shoulders like an 80s catalog model. Jeans are acceptable as long as they are accompanied by either a Ralf Lauren Polo shirt or a long-sleeved shirt without a tie. Ladies, long coats in autumnal colours are more than acceptable over either a jersey dress or jeans and a shirt that coordinates with your partner...  No matter what the age of your small human their outfit must cost between £50 and £500, no exceptions. If your little human is not appropriately clothed then your family will be marched up to the tube station and sent to Edgware. (Via Facebook, paraphrase. Is this person really talking about Hampstead? Ralf Lauren? Catalog?)  

According to Drusilla Beyfus, in Lady Behave, 1956, when entertaining the Queen to lunch, women must wear white gloves. There was a complicated etiquette of when you took the gloves OFF (to eat finger food) and put them back ON... The Queen carried on wearing white gloves, probably because she had to shake a lot of hands. So that’s what she kept in her handbag – a spare pair!

I bought a cheap two-piece suit from the high street, hoping to make a good impression. Ten minutes before we sat down [for the client meeting, my boss] pulled me to the side, wanting to know if I could find anything more ‘relaxed’ for next time: 'the suit is a bit… pompous,' he added. So, at the next meeting, I took his advice. I showed up in the same jumper and chinos I wore clubbing the previous Saturday in the West End. But I felt shabby. 'I look underdressed,' I recall telling him, as the client strolled out in his immaculate navy jacket. And yet that was the point. As a representative of the advertising agency, I was told we couldn't be seen as old-fashioned. (Spectator)

Likewise, a woman worried that her clothes and hair didn’t “read as professional” on a Zoom call.

Her white blouse, fastened at the throat with a brooch depicting a couple of tennis rackets, was sprinkled with various bits of cheap jewellery which her means had permitted her recently to acquire. Under the rackets, a wish-bone, a turquoise horseshoe, and a bedizened safety-pin were followed by a pendant proclaiming that her Christian name began with a P. Westward, a watch hung. To the north east, a silver insect, with amethyst wings, would have been solitary but for a “Chaste design, set with fine quality pearls, at £1 10s.” A yard or two of chain encircling her neck became a loop line on a true-lover’s knot of red enamel before its terminus in a bunch of charms at her waist. (The Position of Peggy Harper by Leonard Merrick, set circa 1900. Like Jacky in Howards End, Peggy is not a lady. But Jacky is always good-humoured, and would never go back on a pal.)

I've told the tale of me wondering why it was that I could go to an exhibition dressed in jeans and no one would look at me, then go in a suit and everyone will talk to you. Then I got to be on a stand and had 20 people around wanting info and I just went straight to the guy in the suit. I've since seen this in academia where the secretary would tell everyone what to do because she dressed smarter than everyone else. And that's when I started to dress smarter as it sets expectations in people. (Matthew Jones)

Novelist Jeffrey Eugenides wrote about a crop-haired student who wears self-crafted grey felt clothes and calls herself "Moss". Everybody knows that when she graduates she will grow her hair, put on a blouse and skirt and get an ordinary job, and change her name back to "Susan". 

When we met, my girlfriend was finishing up grad school and dressed a little young for our age—clashing or mismatched colours, old and tattered clothing ... just not what a lot of other people our age are wearing... She’s pretty eco-conscious and doesn’t believe in throwing things away... clothing that’s faded and dirty is still a part of her daily wardrobe. (Dear Prudie. Note how students are expected to morph from Bohemian to preppy to office wear. I’m guessing the Bohemian look is just as much a uniform – when you’re 19.)

For some reason that I’ve never fully fathomed, parents in those days always tried to prevent their children wearing grown-up clothes as long as possible. In every family there was a stand-up fight before a boy had his first tall collars or a girl put her hair up. (George Orwell's Coming Up for Air, talking about the years before WWI. Teenage girls wore mid-calf skirts until they were 17 or 18, even though they might be working from the age of 14.)

"She's cleverer than she looks." I've had two exec producers say this about me. Assume it's because I wear makeup and dye my hair. I really hate the pressure to look 'bookish' if you want to be taken seriously. Each to their own, but wearing make-up and nice clothes, and dyeing your hair do not mean you're thick. (@RebeccaRideal )

You know what they tell you – appearance doesn't matter. They lie. You knew that.

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 11 November 2022

You Are What You Eat 17

I love sitting in caffs reading the paper and doing the crossword. In lockdown most closed their doors - would they survive? 

I returned to Chapel Market, Islington and found that two of them had re-opened but had gone upmarket. One, that used to be popular and packed, is now a tagine restaurant and almost empty. Perhaps it fills up in the evenings. 

Another refurbed its decor and put in a few armchairs and coffee tables, but despite that it is still a proper greasy spoon. The one opposite was unchanged and shabby, but in the past weeks it has acquired new tables, a glossy marble-effect tiled floor and new paint on the walls. Food is improved, but it's still a haven for old people and odds and sods.

In Stoke Newington the Flamingo is now the Floral, with a green wall – of plastic vegetation. Banquettes are chrome yellow and the place seems as busy as ever. Portions are generous.

Lou's in Dalston went too far upmarket, but has now come back down again. They really know how to make a sandwich – with thin white sliced bread fresh out of the plastic wrapping. Sadly the caff on the De Beauvoir Estate is re-opening as an organic veg shop. It was a haven, with a view of 60s tower blocks.

What they all have in common: Turkish cooks, staff and proprietors. Halal sausages are offered, along with falafel wraps, next to paninis, beans on toast and the all-day breakfast. None advertise themselves as Turkish restaurants, however, and they'll never be reviewed in the broadsheets. Meanwhile, visit and enjoy the excellent and inexpensive food.  

More pix here.

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Money-saving Tips for the New Austerity

In the current economic climate, the girls are deciding which luxuries they can give up.  

Samantha Upward: There was a funny piece in one of the papers with a couple arguing about which snacks they would give up.

Caroline Stow-Crat: Good grief, we never had “snacks”!

Sam: Bang would go sixpence.

Caro: Exactly.

Sam: And besides, they were common.

Caro: And vulgar.

Sam: I think we were allowed peanuts in their shells – you had to do a bit of work to get them out, and no nasty salt or chemical flavourings.

Caro: Do you ever eat unshelled peanuts now?

Sam: No. I eat prawn cocktail crisps wherever I can get them. We used to wash and dry pumpkin seeds, too, and shell and eat them. When we didn’t dye them with food dye and string them as necklaces.

Caro: So very not plarstic!

Sam: And people think the middle classes are privileged! Anyway, here's a list of money-saving tips:

Re-use printer paper (print on the back), or give old print-outs to your children to draw on.

Search online for printer ink deals.

Buy something half-price on Black Friday.

Buy pyjama tops and wear them as T shirts – they're cheaper.

Visit charity shops in richer areas like Hampstead and Notting Hill.

Mix and match colours and patterns from your local charity shop.

Buy a copy of Cheap Chic by Caterine Milinaire. (She recommends shopping in the school uniform sections of upmarket department stores for wool jerseys and white shirts. Or try workwear suppliers like Alexandra for plain basics.)

When writer Arthur Marshall was asked by a charity collector what he did with his old clothes, he replied: "I fold them neatly, put them on a chair, and put them on again in the morning." (But I think he lifted the joke from Punch.)

Cook at night when electricity is cheaper. 

Reheat cold coffee in the microwave.

Batch cook and freeze.

Use the microwave or a slow cooker. Even a stove-top pressure cooker saves fuel. Likewise a George Foreman grill or air fryer.

Haybox cookery. (Did anyone really do this?)

Take your lunch to work.

Go vegan or vegetarian.

In the supermarket, buy a few things from the “reduced” trolley. Go just before closing time. 

Buy the loss leaders – the “tuppence off baked beans this week”.


Religion hop – there’s usually a coffee-and-biscuits moment, or even a free meal.

Roam expensive food shops like Selfridges and browse the free samples.

Pick up dropped fruit and veg at the market. Again, just before it closes. Dressing like a bag lady optional.

Grow your own veg. If you don't have a garden, bag a council flowerbed or a bit of grass verge.

Combine pulses: rice, peas, beans. Use tinned or packet soup as a sauce.

Try savoury bread pudding with brown bread and courgettes (fry first).

Pasta/rice, cream cheese, sweet corn and finely chopped onion.

Dip leftover sandwiches in beaten egg and fry.

If growing your own veg, remember beet and turnip tops are edible.

Grow cress on a bit of old flannel. (Update with kitchen paper.)

Collect seeds from your own plants and sow them. (Gather seeds from your friends’ gardens or wherever you go.)

Throw apple cores onto motorway verges and return in 50 years to gather the fruit.

Collect firewood from skips, woods or commons.

Batch buy food such as jam or crackers from Amazon. Co-ordinate with a neighbour and swap half.

Use up stale bread – Mrs Beeton has recipes involving cream, sugar and eggs. Italian bread, tomato and basil soup is delicious.

Keep bread in the fridge or freezer, not a bread crock or bin. These look charmingly traditional, but the bread will go stale and mouldy. 

Save Saturday supplements and use the colourful pages as gift-wrap.

Put ends of soap in the small net bags some products come in. Or crochet your own bag out of string. Use the whole thing as soap. Some say you can grate and boil ends of soap to make new soap bars or shower gel.

What happened to the “freegans” who were going to live on others’ leftovers? Not advisable during a pandemic, and what would happen if everybody did it? But if you do eat out, take home leftovers. Even ends of bread can go in the soup, and the rest can go in a pita or tortilla.

Once again the middle-classes must resign themselves to being "the new poor" and live the "shabby-genteel" life.

You Are What You Eat 16

I hate the assumption that working-class people only eat English food, and cheap staples from other cuisines are dismissed as ‘pretentious and posh’ by others. (@STEMlorde) Except that spag bol and lasagne is “caff” food, not café food.

The parents are of the expensive, cocktail-party-and-chromium kind.
 (Edmund Crispin, Love Lies Bleeding, 1948)

M&S Food's Best Ever Mac & Cheese! With cave-aged Cheddar, Pecorino, Emmenthal and mozzarella, topped with roasted garlic oil and onion ciabatta breadcrumb. Need we say more? (@CostaCoffee) There's an upmarket version of everything.

I made home-made pesto and the ingredients cost about £800 and it’s not even that great so my life hack today is go to Lidl and just buy a jar for a quid and don’t be a twat like me. (@JaneSlavin)

The antiquated snobs will tell you you're wrong to say dessert rather than pudding, yet they will not hesitate to ask for a dessert spoon. (@AodhBC)

Latest Upward/Weybridge fad is sneering at anything imported, especially flowers – one must get behind Brexit/save food miles/save the planet.

Teales and Definitelies domesticate foreign tastes by adding sugar: Balsamic vinegar and sweet chilli sauce (that isn’t very hot). They domesticate “artisanal” bread by making a soft version.

Sam Upward would offer you “mashed potatoes”, because “mashed potato” sounds like something you’d read on a menu.

Who was refusing to go to a funeral because the choice of venue for the wake was “Beefeater or Harvester”? (At least you'd get enough to eat instead of a handful of polite nibbles.)

Most layers of the middle class love turning any subject into a rant about obesity (burden on the NHS, wasting our tax dollars). Starve the chavs! (Obesity can be a result of poverty.)

Upwards can never eat anything “creamed”: creamed corn, creamed potatoes. Especially when the word means “smothered in white sauce”. 

Dark brown meat in dark brown gravy is very downmarket. It’s hard to find except frozen in Iceland.

"Good food": consists of fresh ingredients, freshly cooked – but not deep fried. It is probably dished up in a style borrowed from a country where you can afford to go on holiday. If you want real British food you’ll have to sign up to meals on wheels from Wiltshire Farm Foods

Fizzy water comes in different strengths of fizz because everything comes in a “range” and there has to be a version we drink or eat and a version we look down on people for drinking or eating. Sodastreams are back, but Upwards are not allowed to add too many bubbles. Upward withholding again!

Whatever happened to those little paper chef’s hats for the ends of lamb joints or mutton chops? They were utterly beyond the pale in the 70s – but who eats mutton any more? (Damned by John Betjeman: "The frills round the cutlets can wait...")

Until the 50s, jam and pickles were decanted into cut-glass dishes. Only the lower classes put a jar of jam or pickles on the table, whether or not in a saucer or with a special silver jam spoon that hooked over the side. Of course silver jam spoons with a latched hook were utterly naff, as were asparagus tongs. Asparagus, melted butter and all, was eaten in the fingers. Those silver jam spoons come in handy for jars of instant coffee. (The Upwards faint.)

A 30s book of “cookery and household management” describes making, with a lot of time and trouble, a savoury custard which you cut into slices. You then punched shapes out of the slices, washed them in several changes of cold water, and added them to clear soup. The shapes were replaced by small pasta shapes like stelline before disappearing from our lives.

Why are the chairs in trendy upmarket cafés too low, and the tables too high? Makes eating difficult, makes reading difficult. Makes typing on a laptop harder, not easier. Typing chairs need to be high – you need to imitate a piano player, not a begging dog.

Upwards are allowed to like motorway services if they have a gloss of artisanal rusticity – a farm shop, some distressed wood, an absence of videogames and fruit machines, proper coffee. Someone on Twitter describes having a coffee at a services “in the middle of nowhere” as the ultimate in alienation. Very Bohemian Rowena Upward drives to motorway services on purpose to soak up the alienation. Local residents would be outraged to hear that they live “nowhere”. Would paintings of motorway services, or those “strange, sterile” Amazon supermarkets, have a Hopperish feel, asks an architectural journalist? 

There’s a tendency for institutions to replace an affordable canteen or café with a very upmarket restaurant which will get reviewed in the broadsheets and attract an impressive clientèle. Meanwhile ordinary visitors have nowhere to eat, avoid the museum/concert hall as a result, and the restaurant goes bust. When firms were no longer obliged by law to provide canteens the concept vanished from our minds. Was the wonderful BHS canteen in Oxford Street the last man standing? Ordinary grub, formica tables, and not a single pepper in anything. The National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the V&A – they all had canteens and I remember them fondly.

Why do Upwards despise pickles? Because they need to show that they can afford fresh vegetables, and always have been able to. They also needed to show that they could afford a fridge. This taboo extends to despising anything vinegary apart from French dressing.

Ethelind Fearon in The Reluctant Hostess (50s) describes the dilemma of a woman when a friend unexpectedly drops in to lunch and all you have in the larder is six eggs. Solution: omelette, followed by zabaglione (a trendy 50s dessert of whipped up egg whites, sugar and sherry). Why didn’t she say “there’s nothing in the house, shall we go out?” Because there was nowhere they could go. Somewhere acceptable for two ladies is either too expensive or too far away, and her husband has taken the car. Upwards used to avoid cafés, even dainty tea shoppes, because “bang might go sixpence”. They were right – I’ve saved so much money not sitting in Costa’s for hours. Caffs and Macdonalds are cheaper, but this is /fast food/, and Upwards can’t be seen there. The tea shoppes were too lower middle class and the crustless sandwiches came with a sprinkle of mustard and cress and a handful of crisps.

When computers arrived in offices about 30 years ago, many Upwards recoiled from them. They all came in beige plastic. There wasn’t an organic, artisanal version. We got used to them, and now they come in sleek, stylish metal. But some Upwards still feel the same way about microwaves, now being recommended as they use less fuel. 

I fear I am not the only insufferable microwave snob. A woman I know admits she views microwaves as ‘anti-aspirational’. She reluctantly bought one years ago for £30, still doesn’t know how to use it properly, and only ever heats up porridge inside it. It is hidden from view in a cupboard. Another super-successful woman I work for won’t have one in her house. Her word for them is ‘common’. (Times, Candida Crewe, Aug 2022) And a friend didn’t like to use a microwave because “you have to use plastic dishes”.

Lady Behave
 by Drusilla Beyfus (1956) reveals a lost world of menu French and salad plates. It's like looking into Tutankhamun's tomb. Salad accompanied a main dish, but on a separate plate. The most naff were glass and crescent-shaped. When laying a table, don’t forget the ashtrays and cigarettes. Beyfus boldly suggests putting dishes of vegetables on the table so that guests can serve themselves. She describes the “cooking hostess” who has to provide a dinner on a grand scale – she no longer has servants, so she just does it all herself. Another thing she doesn’t have is a job. Beyfus frowns on finger bowls, though you are supposed to eat gulls’ eggs in your fingers, shell your own prawns and debone your own sole. The ladies would need to withdraw after that lot – to wash their hands. 

Beyfus uses the word “delicacy” frequently. Another striking aspect – the food is all European, meaning French or Italian. German and Swiss food have never been “gourmet” in the UK, apart from Scandinavian smorgasbord, and fondue in the 70s, which we will pass over in silence. There’s a complete absence of anything from the Far East or Indian subcontinent. Delicacies are snails and frogs’ legs, which are either Roman-style decadence or famine food. There’s a lot of garlic, but not a single pepper.

Monday 3 October 2022

Beat the Cold and the Fuel Crisis 7

And save the planet.

Halogen bulbs better than LEDs.
Showers, not baths.
Dry your clothes outside, not in the tumble-dryer.

(All from BBC Breakfast)

Dust lightbulbs.
Turn off the heating when you go out.
Office buildings to turn off lights at night.
Leave curtains and blinds open until the sun goes down to take advantage of natural light and warmth.

Don't heat empty rooms: turn off the radiator in the spare room and close the curtains. Keep the door shut, too.

(from The Times)

Tips from Twitter

Things I learned from working in -10°F on loading docks:

Scarves/Keeping your neck warm does a LOT to keep you warm.
Wear 2 pairs of socks & tuck your pants (trousers) in between the layers of socks.
Tuck your sleeves into your gloves.
No hat? Get a long scarf & wrap it like a hijab.

Learn to crochet:

Wrist warmers

What to wear:

Fine vests and spencers
Waistcoats that hug your ribs
Stockings under trousers
Scarves and snoods
Silk scarves, shirts, vests
Socks on your hands at night
Furry ear warmers
(very fashionable in the mid-60s)
Long silk underwear
Fine wool long vest and long-leg knickers. Tuck the vest into the knickers.

Wear a nightcap, don’t drink one.

Slippers and shoes with thick soles – platform shoes keep you off cold pavements and out of the snow.

Old dinner jackets are warm, says @zi6qa. And stylish!

Paper can be used as insulation, says @jaredmshearer. Over or under your vest?

Cardboard insoles make a difference – but commercial insoles are better and sheepskin are best.

Tuck your shirt in. Tuck trousers into socks.

Make mittens by cutting the toes off socks and making a thumb hole. Bind the edges.

Don't throw out that moth-eaten cashmere jumper – cut off the sleeves to use as wrist warmers.

Insulate knitwear with a big plaid shirt over the top – or an emergency poncho. A bin bag with a head hole and arm holes would probably perform the same function. They can also be used as rainwear.

Line hand-knits with taffeta.

Pyjama trousers under jeans, suggests @szetoinsitu.

And change out of damp clothes, says the BBC's Morning Live.

Keep changing your socks. Wear two pairs.

At home, get up and move around every hour.

Instead of turning on the central heating:

Check your fire and carbon monoxide alarms.

DO NOT start a fire in your house unless you have a chimney, warns @OSTBear. He also points out that candles emit heat as well as light.

If the electricity has gone off but you have a gas cooker, keep a pan of water boiling on the stove. (Make sure it doesn’t boil dry.)

Plug in your slow cooker in the living room.

Divide up open-plan rooms with thick drapes, or room dividers. Rebuild that wall you "knocked through". French style glass doors between the rooms will conserve heat while letting in light.

Put a candle in a clay pot and it will radiate heat.

Fool your brain with a “crackling fire” video, says @Lisaffect.

Clip fine blankets to your curtains with clothes pegs, says @thunderratz.

Electric throws are cheaper than heaters, and space heaters are cheaper than central heating. 

Don’t block radiators with furniture. Stick foil behind radiators and fix a shelf above them.

Keep internal doors closed. If anyone leaves a door open, shout “Were you born in a barn?” Or "Shut that door!"

Put rugs down on those fashionable bare boards and laminate floors.

In a two-storey house, live upstairs (heat rises), or fix up a thick curtain between downstairs and upstairs – or box-in the stairs and put a door at the bottom.

Avoid external walls, or insulate them with blankets hung as tapestries. Or bookcases – books do furnish a room. If you have no books, buy in bulk from charity shops. You may even start to read!

Families and flatmates congregate in one room.

Ten pigs give out as much heat as a single-bar fire! Copy Yorkshire farmers and keep cows downstairs. Or take a hint from the Irish and Scots and keep your animals down one end of your bothy. Sleep on a mezzanine floor above them. Or be like the Russians and heat the house with a big porcelain stove on which you all sleep.

Put a screen round the front door.

Hang curtains over all doors.

Bring back the "room divider".

After cooking, leave the oven door open, advises @OllyWrites.

Build a bonfire in the garden with that wood you liberated from skips. You can even cook on it! Sausages in a roasting tin; chestnuts and jacket potatoes in foil, in the embers.

Heat the person, not the space. (Room heaters, electric blankets or even slankets.)

Huddle over a heat source, as your parents and grandparents advised you NOT to do.

Sleeping arrangements:

If you don’t have a hot water bottle or wheat bag, fill a glass lemonade etc bottle with hot water and wrap it in a towel or jumper. Improvise a wheat bag from a sock and some raw rice.

Turn your bed into a four-poster and dress it with a thick tester (roof) and curtains. Use quilted fabric.

If you run out of bedclothes, use bathtowels and coats.

And you can always sleep with all your clothes on. Curling up is warmer than stretching out.

If you have dogs and cats, pile them on your bed.

Share your bed with as many other people as possible – all at the same time.

Pick a high bed, not a divan – or pallet. An old-fashioned valance will insulate the space underneath and obviate cold draughts. Or fill the space with old suitcases.

Flannelette sheets and duvet covers keep in the heat.

Put a blanket under your sheet, or on top of your sheet and sleep on it. Put another one between you and the duvet. Use several duvets at once. Tuck the duvet round you, not under the mattress. Partners – adopt individual duvets.

Layer blankets with newspapers in between.

Invest in a sleeping bag designed for Himalayan expeditions. Wear while working from home and watching TV.

Pitch a tent in your living room, blow up your lilo, don your sleeping bag and crawl inside with your hotwater bottle. Zip up the tent from the inside.

Some recommend putting the tent on your bed and sleeping in it.

Blanket forts are great,” says @eveiswurzig. (Made from blankets and clothes rails, or a blanket draped over a table. Mattress on the floor, whole family huddles.)

If you lose power, sleep together with your children in the middle and layer blankets over and under everyone, says Lee in Iowa.

During the day:

Wrap yourself in a space blanket as you work.

Insulate your typing chair – throw a coat over the back.

Keep moving. Housework warms you up!

Wrap yourself in a spare duvet.

Make soup – it's also cheap.

Boil water and keep it in a thermos to save boiling the kettle constantly. Or fill the thermos with tea.

Invade the second homes of rich people, suggests @hanikamiya.

Window treatments:

There are many cheap ways of insulating windows – plastic, bubble wrap, cardboard, rubbish bags – but have you thought of using an emergency blanket? 

Install blinds as well as curtains and draw both.

Hang thermal curtains.

Use a pool noodle cut in half lengthways as a draught excluder, recommends @nivahiem. Or find a 1970s pattern for a draught excluder in the shape of a corduroy dachsund.

Build a broch – an ancient Scottish castle with double walls (see above). Or a beehive hut as dwelt in by the monks of Skellig Michael, an Irish island in the Atlantic. 

Already firms are ceasing to heat foyers. Will we go back to the 40W bulb in the hall? The five-inch, tepid bath? 

On trains, shut the door after you. They're probably automatic now, but I once spent an entire chilly train journey getting up and shutting the door between carriages as people passed through – and didn't shut the door after them. I also spent a freezing journey wrapped in sheets of newspaper. The Good Old Days!

In a café, pick a seat near the back instead of scowling at thoughtless customers who leave the door open.

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 23 September 2022

Beat the Cold and the Fuel Crisis 6

There's a fuel crisis, and the young think that "no central heating" meant "no heating". Meanwhile oldies reminisce about the beautiful frost flowers on the inside of the window panes. I remember chilblains. Caroline Stow Crat and Samantha Upward share tips.

Caro: We’ve lived through fuel shortages before – the war, the oil crisis. How did we cope?

Sam: We need to reinvent some old technology. In the early 70s oil crisis, you could still get oil lamps and oil from the corner shop! And the papers offered tips on making Roman-style lamps... There are safer versions online and you can buy lengths of wick, and oil lamps and kerosene.

Caro: And Roman replicas... and Indian brass lamps. I remember in 1973 candles sold out pretty sharpish.

Sam: Or you can put out lots of tea lights in glass holders. You can even get battery-powered ones, and candles.

Caro: I could read in bed with a head torch. And dinner parties can be candle-lit.

Sam: In the olden days, you put a water-filled carafe in front of your candle.

Caro: I like those regency mirrors with integral candle holders, same kind of idea.

Sam: And that’s why you had a big mirror over your mantelpiece. Motion-sensitive lights everywhere might help. Kids won't remember to turn lights off – but they might if you tell them it's to save the planet.

Caro: And let’s not revive the paraffin stove. Give me a good old log fire.

Sam: But the pollution! People are ripping out their woodburning stoves.

Caro: There’s always something! You could buy a van and follow tree surgeons around, or go out at night and take waste wood from building sites and skips.

Sam: You can get coffee logs, or one of those devices for making logs out of old newspapers. Perhaps London will turn black again – and be known as The Smoke.

Caro: And Edinburgh as Auld Reekie – reek was smoke, not a pong!

Sam: If turn on the central heating, keep it low, and make sure your radiators have individual controls. So you can have real heat in the living room and gentle warmth everywhere else.

Caro: Room heaters blast hot air into a room – you can then turn them off.

Sam: Put up a screen round the back of your chair, drape a blanket over the top and direct the room heater into it directly. Or move into a house with smaller rooms.

Caro: What about transport? During the war Mother drove a pony and trap – I think the trap is still in the stables. 

Sam: At least you’ve still got room for a pony. What about dog carts pulled by Newfoundlands?

Caro: The RSPCA would have something to say! But we can sell the ride-on mower and bring back a herd of sheep – or goats – or alpacas.

Sam: Why cut the grass? You could make hay for haybox cookery!

Caro: Did it really work? I hear microwaves, pressure cookers and slow cookers use less fuel.

Sam: Remember leg-warmers? I knitted my own!

Caro: We should all learn to knit – or befriend an old lady who can.

Sam: A shoulder shawl really does keep you warm.

Caro: Keep your feet in a foot muff or on a foot warmer (fill it with hot water). 

Sam: Tack a bit of old carpet over the letter box to avoid a howling draught.

Caro: And wear a vest.


Why not buy a Victorian terrace house and open up the fireplaces? If you’re lucky, you’ll find original cast-iron fire surrounds behind the boards and bricks. If not, buy some from a salvage yard. Double-glaze all the windows. And rebuild walls – what’s the opposite of “open plan”? Closed plan? Small spaces are easier to heat. Put back the wall between what was the “front parlour” that was kept for best and visitors, and the kitchen. Make that back room into a kitchen with an Aga that’s always on. Live in this room – bring in the telly and a sofa. Cook and eat round the kitchen table you’ve bought from a hipster café that’s gone bust. For night-time, make the beds with blankets under the bottom sheet, and three duvets. 

My mother used to knock herself out chopping logs so that she could build a fire in the sitting room. When we moved into the draughty, unmodernised Victorian servants’ quarters of a big house (cut off to make a separate dwelling), this was the only source of heating apart from the Aga and paraffin stoves. She carried on chopping when we had central heating and it wasn't necessary. I see her point – it’s attractive and cosy and gives the room a “focal point”, as decorators say. You can’t huddle round a night-store heater. But she could have hired somebody to chop the logs.

People are now "ripping out" their Agas because they're too expensive to run. We fuelled ours with phurnacite (compressed coal-dust blocks). It would cost less, but it's not great for the environment, or the lungs of anyone living nearby.

I love autumn – new shoes, pencil cases, crisp leaves & crisp air - but a bit alarmed I already have to wear two cardigans to work from home. Absolutely no heating goes on until October in this house so I just have to … think of apple crumble and cute scarves, I guess. (@lottelydia. Charlotte, you could change the rules.)

Fuel crisis? Hurrah! Means I’ve won the argument with my wife over the thermostat.  (@Lord_Steerforth, paraphrase.)

More tips here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 20 September 2022

RIP Queen Elizabeth II

Mourners enter the Abbey, in pearls and boaters,
Black in hats and dresses, in simple outlines,
Suits and ties and orders, and fascinators,
Sitting where told to.

Soon we hear from Purcell, and Bach on organ.
Lady Scotland reads now, likewise the Prime Minister,
Here comes the Archbishop, who gives the sermon,
Still in our places.

Walkers follow coffin, with drummers drumming,
Playing stately marches, so all can keep time.
Whitehall, through the Horseguards, and down the Mall with
Cheering and clapping.

Left wheel round the statues, and up the Long Walk.
Bearers waiting blank-faced, beneath triumphal
Arch at route’s end looming, a hearse stands empty.
When will they get here?

No more tragic dirges – no time for Handel.
Cars set off for Windsor, a sound of birdsong,
Rumbling wheels on tarmac, and far-off cheering,
Throwing carnations.

On by warehouse, terrace, past shop, past garage,
Poplars, rivers, bus stops. On bridges, pavements,
Central reservations, and lonely driveways, 
Saying their goodbyes.

Halt in rural roadway, with fields on both sides,
Met by men in helmets and red and gold lace,
Cars drive slowly uphill towards a castle.
Carpets of flowers.

Now give rest, O Lord, to thy servant Elizabeth.

(With apologies to Sappho and John Betjeman.)

Monday 19 September 2022

Essence of Britishness

Want to pass as British? The following tips may help.

Complain that death is the last taboo and that the Victorians did it better, moan about the British stiff upper lip and our inability to express emotion, and then lay on a parade for the death of a monarch that is a magnificent work of art in itself.

But don't forget to accuse everyone of mourning in the wrong way.

“Everybody knows this, but nobody will admit it” is something you could chant at intervals during the day and always be right. Also: "We say we do THIS, but actually we do THAT." The British middle classes know what their society is like – snobbish and exclusive for a start – but they pretend to believe it is very different. As E.M. Forster once said, "The female mind, though cruelly practical in daily life, cannot bear to hear ideals belittled in conversation". For example, young women’s lives are all about attracting a man, and society needs them to pair off, but the girls have to say they're keen on getting an education and embarking on a career. (Working class girls have kids young, then start a business.)

When two new tube stations open, moan that they're unnecessary, and that new flat owners prefer to take the bus. 

Avoid innovations that will make your life easier.  

Send journalists to stand bare-headed in a typhoon/blizzard, and then moan that they're standing bare-headed in a typhoon/bllizzard.

When there's a run on petrol because of a shortage of tanker drivers, refuse to "panic buy". You feel superior – you just can’t go anywhere. While moaning about the media fuelling a buying frenzy, whinge that you can’t now drive to Scotland as planned.

Times columnist Carol Midgley is “egged”: It left me winded and pathetically shocked, though of course I pretended to laugh heartily so I didn’t lose face in front of strangers who witnessed it.

Everybody hates the Big Light – the central ceiling light that has been a feature of British rooms since the days of gaslight. A switch by the door turns it on – but you mustn’t. Nobody removes the Big Light or even removes the bulb. Nobody reroutes the switch so that it turns on wall uplighters. Because then they’d have nothing to moan about, and no way of subtly putting down visitors who don’t know that We Never Turn On The Big Light. 

Take your children for a fun day out at a “dull” historical site and give them “dry” lectures about its origins. Persuade them that camping is fun. (Daily Mash. The historical site is probably also “free”, with nowhere to buy sweets, postcards or even a cup of tea.)

Acknowledge that prejudice is wrong, celebrate diversity in street festivals, yet threaten to shoot anyone who says "Can I get a latte". 

Accuse the Americans of being hegemonic imperialist expansionists (and vice versa).

Manage not to see that we took our numbering system and religion from the Middle East, and our language from Germanic and French invaders. 

Be proud of our Anglo-Saxon heritage, while assuming history started in 1066, when the Anglo-Saxons lost.

The BBC will broadcast “very British” escapist and resilience advice shows intended to help viewers through the “tough times ahead” caused by the cost of living crisis. The programmes include a new David Attenborough series about UK wildlife and a week of cost of living-themed programmes, including a decluttering series, Sort Your Life Out, fronted by Stacy Solomon. The corporation’s director of unscripted, Kate Phillips, said the BBC wants “to bring audiences together”. (The Week)

The most bizarre thing about the British right’s entirely fantasised war on Christmas is their furious defence of German traditions related to a Middle Eastern religion imported by a bunch of Italians. (@cooraysmith)

A group of teenagers on the bus neglects to get up when there are elderly people standing. "I gave up my seat and stared at them, but they just continued to sit there!" comments someone who could not be more passive aggressive if they tried.

Don't ask for help, then when none is offered say "Thank you very much!" sarcastically, then complain about the incident to someone else, while congratulating yourself on your directness.

I was making tea for an annoying colleague at work. I deliberately used the same spoon to hoik out the teabag from his cup that I'd just used to stir my coffee. (@fesshole)

I voted Green – to send THEM a message.

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 3 August 2022

Beat the Heat

A photosensitive friend reports that, when she carries an umbrella on a torrid sunny day, she gets barracked: “Oi, look, she thinks it’s raining!” (That's Audrey Hepburn in the picture.)

In the sun, my mother wore dark glasses, a hat, a scarf, and a long-sleeved shirt and didn’t care about being thought eccentric, but she was mortified when I wore white gloves to protect my sunburned hands at an al fresco lunch party. (She was still bringing it up decades later.)

Will global warming mean the Brits carry parasols and flutter fans? Or will they just be too embarrassed? Whenever I use a fan, on a bus or at a concert, people nearby say “Oh, that’s lovely! Send it this way!” But they never pick up a fan themselves. It may need a first-person article: "I carried a parasol and fanned myself in public and survived". 

For years we thought that the old air conditioner in our room was inoperable because there was no control for it until last summer when we did a bit of a clear-out and found the on-off switch behind some files. It works fine. We sat sweating through summer after summer. (Lawyer Adam Wagner)

In a 70s office block (now demolished), we sweltered. We couldn’t open the huge, heavy windows as there was no way to stop them slamming shut, and besides, all our papers would get blown about. We had electric fans, and sprays for watering the plants – we directed the spray at the fan – bliss! We also ate lunch on the roof.

Annual hot weather reminder that if you’ve got sash windows and open them equally at top and bottom you can enjoy some Victorian “air conditioning” that ventilates and removes heat. (@jester Jun 9 2023)  

Awnings fixed above all your windows create a cool temperature inside the room. And they protect your shop-window display from the sun. Time to bring them back! (Via @DarrenMcLean_uk, 2023)

There are several books on “dry gardening”, such as Gardening in a Changing Climate by Ambra Edwards. Plant shrubs and trees for shade, and install beach umbrellas, a gazebo and a large paddling pool. Hydrate plants with “grey” water – bath, washing-up.

Paper fans can be bought online, or in Chinatown. Chinese paper umbrellas are available online. Or  why not a colourful golf umbrella? Or, if you’re a real rebel, one with a firm’s logo? Or a child’s brolly with cat’s ears? To find something like a traditional parasol, try searching for "pagoda umbrella" or "steampunk umbrella". You can get a long-handled parasol from Move Dance. They have lace umbrellas too, as do bridal suppliers. Hello, street-corner purveyors of shawls, hats and umbrellas – why not stock some parasols?

Men: instead of 3/4 cargo shorts worn at half-mast, why not a cool, floor-length kaftan? And get a short back and sides, shave your head, or sport a man-bun.

Women: an updo is cooler. As are short hair and a cotton sports bra. Thank goodness buffet dresses (long, big, loose, ruffled) are popular.

All genders: go for loose cotton or linen. Non-binary or genderless clothes can be found online.

For the home, current advice is to install outdoor shutters (shut them for coolness in summer, warmth in winter). Also to shut windows and close curtains... I’ll still be opening all my windows – I’m lucky, I’m five floors up. I’ve been securing them with tie-belts – I really must get some “casement stays”. It makes sense to close curtains where the sun is streaming in – and it’ll save your upholstery and pictures from bleaching.

Put a tray full of ice cubes in front of the fan.

Fill the bath with cold water and leave it – you can splash or paddle occasionally.

Hang wet sheets over windows.

Leave internal doors open – and shut them in the winter.

Don’t keep your crystal ball on a windowsill – it can refract the light and even cause a fire! Watch out for magnifying mirrors, too.

Drink a lot – water and fruit juice with ice. Keep a jug or bottle of water in the fridge.

Architects, builders: design large windows that can open (and be securely propped open). On both sides of the building, for through draughts. Install natural aircon in the form of windcatchers. If steel-and-glass offices and flats can have large windows, why can't new houses modelled on Victorian cottages? And for large public buildings, three times as many women's toilets as gents', and some gender-neutral cubicles. When a venue has to employ "toilet queue co-ordinators", you know something is wrong.

Councils – plant trees.

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 29 June 2022

Art School: What I Did Next

So, what did I do next?
After a rotten non-education at an expensive boarding school, I did another O Level and A Level at a tutoring establishment. And then I went to Camberwell art school in South London, aged 17.

From the age of about ten I’d been “going to art school”. My mother wanted me to relive her days at Chelsea Art School in the 30s and 40s, with boyfriends, parties, lunch at the Savoy and tea at the Ritz. 

When I was 15 or 16, she took me round to see friends from her art college days. I wore a frilly white blouse and a pink tweed pinafore dress she’d made me, and they were polite about my work. I was sent to talk to them on my own. I had nothing to say. At the official interview for Camberwell Art School they asked me what I read. I said “George Orwell and the Evening Standard”. I didn’t know I was supposed to say something like “Leonardo’s notebooks”. We were given a reading list before the first term and I got my parents to buy all the books (including Leonardo’s notebooks), and I read them. I loved Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art and later wrote an essay based on it that impressed the tutors.  

We arrived for the first day bringing work we’d done in the summer holidays. The paintings were pinned up on a wall, and one of the staff critiqued them one by one. He was a small man with a beard and a sneery, nasal voice and was rude about every single painting. He was keen that we shouldn’t paint “cottages with roses round the door”. One student had been “looking at something to do with hobbits and Tolkien”. (She had an innovative technique and didn’t really need instruction from anybody. She’s now a psychotherapist.)

During the Foundation year we were at least given something to do, even if it was make-work. We were sent to the V&A to copy what we liked, and then we came back to a converted school and made collages from our drawings. The tutor in charge used to go to the pub at lunchtime and come back and harangue us and punch us painfully on the arm – especially the female students. There was a little tea bar run by elderly ladies, and a Victorian stove that we gathered round occasionally. Life wasn’t wonderful, but we had no idea how much worse it was going to get. 

There was a canteen and a library at the college, but no common room. Students from out of town were found a rented room nearby – though one girl was housed in faraway Sidcup. She referred to the college as “this place” in a fed-up voice and left after the first term – I don’t blame her. There were no evening activities, apart the occasional film screening – just lectures and more classes. (The college is now part of a university with halls and a campus.) 

We were set to draw from life, and make studies of plaster casts of antique sculpture. It was the fossil of an approach that had once made sense. In the 19th century and earlier, wannabe artists assembled their studies into theatrical scenes of life in Ancient Rome, Biblical episodes or dramatic moments from Shakespeare. Or, like William Powell Frith, vivid scenarios on railway stations or at race courses. It was also good training for creating book covers, adverts and magazine illustrations – all of which had just been taken over by photography. The rationale had gone, but artists still labelled their works "Study of a Head" – not "Portrait of Doris".

After the Foundation Year came the Painting Course. At first, I didn't get in, but I think my mother pulled strings again. I cried when I was told I'd failed – why? I was already disillusioned, tired and fed up. 

What kind of art were they expecting us to produce? The staff loved the Camden Town Group, Walter Sickert and his townscapes, or the works of William Coldstream and the Euston Road School. Social comment was out, and they loathed sentimentality.

It was the late 60s, and the tutors were probably shuddering at memories of a genre that emerged when war artists, deprived of a subject, became embarrassingly mystical – see Evelyn Dunbar. Coldstream, and his follower and our teacher Euan Uglow (see picture), were both excellent painters, now rather forgotten. They left underdrawing and grids partly exposed, and reduced landscapes, still lives, fruit and people to flat planes and straight lines. 

We weren’t allowed to paint or draw anything we cared about. We weren’t allowed to make political statements, have opinions or convey emotion. We had to pretend people were no more interesting than a bunch of flowers or a cabbage. The tutors were keen on “objectivity” rather than “subjectivity”. They wanted us to look at what we were painting, not to make up what we thought it looked like. They hated anything “literary”, like the PreRaphaelites, who were having a moment. Paintings should be “painterly”. (I was delighted, a few years later, to read an article that called this a dead debate.) Other diktats? Don’t use a ruler, and “There’s no black in nature”. 

All the best artists have had a thing for pure black. (Christian Furr, Times 2019) 

The only portraits we were allowed to like were by Giacometti – ugly, unemotional. When we looked at art we weren’t allowed to comment on facial expressions or the story behind them.

Jane Rosenberg (court artist) trained in the 1970s, when figurative art was deeply unfashionable at art college. “Jane Rosenberg grew up on Long Island in New York and studied art at the University of Buffalo. It was the early 1970s and “abstract art was very in. My teachers always discouraged me from doing realism. They said it’s very passé.” She did it furtively. “I was a closet portrait artist. I would sit at home with a mirror and draw myself.” (Will Pavia, Times 2021)

They told us to “look at the work of X”, which meant “copy X because he’s someone we approve of”. They would never talk about painting techniques, or admit that you could just pick a method and try it. You might go for “squared, interwoven brushstrokes,” as art historian Richard Morris describes. Or you could “block in your masses and then add detail”, like any Victorian painter.

They wanted us to decide on some subject matter (only ever referred to dismissively as “the image” – we were probably meant to select it for purely formal reasons), come up with a technique, and produce a body of work which would be judged at the end of three years. But they never told us any of this. And it required us to decide on a course of action, and have the discipline to carry it out. I'd never done anything like that in my life. What's more, all the education they'd given us so far had been about process, not product.

Nobody mentioned that being an artist was a career, a profession or even a trade. The idea that anybody might buy our work was not on the table. My mother recalled that in her day they were taken on trips round art galleries to see what sold! These days students get seminars on marketing and being taken up by a gallery. (Start a movement, get in the papers.)

I worked on paper because I didn’t have a choice. I had no carpentry skills, had tried to make stretchers but failed miserably. Canvas was out. So were wood or Masonite panels: too heavy, expensive, large, and I didn’t know how to cut them. (Jerry Saltz, artist and art critic) 

We were all, including the girls, expected to hammer together and stretch canvases 6 foot by 6 foot. Well, that was out. The only other option was to buy pieces of hardboard from a local wood yard where they'd cut them for you, but this was looked down on. We were supposed to go out drawing carrying paper pinned to a heavy board. We couldn’t do anything on a small scale unless on the Graphics course (it used to be called Commercial Art). We were told to buy a certain kind of portfolio – huge, heavy, cardboard, with no carrying handles. Small girls couldn’t even get an arm round them. On the first day we were advised against “some kind of plastic contraption” – light, with handles. In fact the tutors treated all students as if they were men. And then girls were marked down because their work was too small. I’ve thought this was unfair for 50 years. A student called Terry used house paint in buckets and created a vast painted surface several inches thick. I wonder what happened to him? 

Another favourite was Julia, who worked in thin layers that she constantly overpainted, leaving some of the under-layers showing. Catherine created Abstract Expressionist studies of erupting volcanoes, and Debbie painted mantelpieces and their contents. She wrote up in her cubicle “You can change your life. Rilke”. I thought: “How ridiculous, of course you can’t.” 

For the first few weeks of the painting course we were set to depict Platonic solids (square, sphere, cone, pyramid) and meaningless containers: boxes, milk bottles, wine bottles – in grisaille, i.e. shades of grey. It was an exercise so dull and devoid of human interest that some students got fed up and left. Perhaps that was the intention. Many had sensibly gone back to Bolton after the first year. 

After the grisaille exercise we were each given a cubicle and pretty much left alone. There was no more need to collaborate with each other – or talk to each other. Once they stopped setting us exercises I had no idea what I was meant to do. It didn't help that we'd been told that "introspection is morbid". We weren't used to asking ourselves if we were happy, and if not, what to do about it.

We each had a tutor of our own and met with him from time to time. Mine decided that I was an upper-class party girl and was more interested in socialising and boyfriends than doing any work. I couldn’t disagree because I was so shy I couldn’t talk to adults. I must have seemed completely uninterested. Did he ever wonder what I was doing there?

He must have assumed that I knew that we were supposed to decide on a practice and a subject, and produce a body of work that would be assessed in three years' time. His job was probably to discuss my plans with me, and look for some kind of development or progress in technique and process. This is really the key. He must have thought I couldn't possibly be that naive – something that happened quite frequently later in my life. (People assumed I was lying, and tried to work out why, probably invoking Freud.)

We weren't given projects or tasks, or set to learn anything. Our Art History seminars were just discussions. Few facts were imparted. We were shown pictures and expected to respond. There was an older German student whose response to everything was, "Well, it's very graphic". I just had no idea what to do with myself all day. On the bus there and back, I read Lord of the Rings, the Gormenghast Trilogy, and Cecil Sharp's collection of Appalachian folk tunes.

I felt a complete failure: the glittering social life hadn’t happened, I’d never had a boyfriend, and I felt I had no friends. Over one Easter holiday I gave up hope that I’d ever have either. It was painful. But I did have friends – Penny, Liz, Sarah, Gillian, Catherine – and who was that nice girl from Liverpool who liked CS Lewis and got married in a white lace catsuit? 

I burned out. Living in a bedsit didn’t help, either. I hated walking along streets alone. I couldn’t make the effort any more. I stopped speaking to people, so naturally nobody spoke to me. I thought life would be like that for ever. By the end, I only spoke in art history seminars. They were the only bearable part of the experience.

When not in a bedsit, I lived with my parents. From Day One, they never asked me what the other students were like, what I had done that day, who were my friends. At boarding school or university, their children were out of sight, out of mind – but they continued this policy when I was right there, day after day. I didn’t talk about my day to day life to anyone. 

And after being at boarding school from age 10, this was my first try at creating a social life from scratch. Nobody had told me it might be hard. The students from Bolton had gone to local schools and had at least grown up with a bunch of friends, but middle-class children were always being sent off to cope with new situations entirely on their own, without any briefing or debriefing. And hang on a minute – my mother had known me all my life. I’d always been painfully shy – why did she think I’d suddenly turn into a social butterfly?

Years later I met Charlie, a fellow student, and compared notes. One night he was so desperate he walked home from his bedsit to Surrey. I used to walk to college to reduce the hours I had to spend there. Another girl walked out of London just to see if she could escape. (She left and went to America.) 

We weren’t used to taking an audit, wondering if we were happy, and if not why not. On rare occasions, we tentatively shared our feelings, but we just didn’t know what to do about it. We were 18 or 19. It was the late 60s, we were supposed to be achieving bliss

Eventually I too decided to leave. But I didn’t dare tell my parents – I was back living with them. For a whole term, I left in the morning, and came home in the evening, pretending I was still at college. I trekked long distances, went to free galleries, took long bus rides, read. One day I bumped into one of the teachers. He said: “I’ve been wanting to talk to you.” I said: “I’ve been wanting to talk to you too”. So we made a date and looked at my pathetic “work”, which he disparaged severely. But we agreed it would be best if I left. However, I couldn’t just walk out – I had to endure an excruciating official exit process, which included laying all my productions on the floor in front of a committee of sneering men with beards. Nobody could think what else I might do apart from “get a job as an au pair”. They probably hadn't wanted to intervene because they thought I was no use for anything.

It was the first decision about my life that I’d ever made for myself and I had no idea what else I wanted to do. My parents were devastated and outraged. They could no longer tell their friends I was “doing a course”. They didn’t have a Plan B. They used to shout at me until I cried. They tried to bully me into going back: “You’ve got to get a qualification!” Well, I wouldn’t have got it. And you can get other qualifications. We didn’t research other colleges or other subjects. We never looked at college brochures or the UCCA book of colleges and courses – I didn’t know they existed and apparently neither did they. They didn’t consult their friends. There’d been no careers advice at school – we were all expected to marry young. Apart from me.

I had no idea what I wanted to do. I'd never been required to think about it before. If I thought about it at all, I thought it would be just as bad anywhere else. I didn’t know how to work out how to do anything. I didn’t know you had to work out what needed to be done. It didn’t occur to me that it was me who had to work it out, or do it. (Though I had managed to leave art school, all on my own.)

I used to see the London College of Printing from the top of the bus, but I never got off, went in and asked what they taught there. I didn't know how. I passed a street market on my bus journey, too, but I never went to it. I only broke my journey to go to the second-hand comic shop. Early on in the ordeal, my mother and I went to the Royal School of Needlework to buy embroidery supplies. I briefly thought: "I might be happier here. I'd be surrounded by girls and I could wear nice, clean clothes every day." But then the thought vanished, and I could barely think at all. Likewise I used to pass the Regent Street Polytechnic opposite the BBC – there were always foreign students standing on the steps. I had a year in hand, I could have done the A Levels that the Convent only pretended to teach (Biology and Geography).

But actually, I’d told my parents I wanted to leave, more than once. They just wouldn’t listen. And afterwards, they rationalised what had happened as “She left art school because she’s lazy and didn’t want to do any work”, not “She left because she was miserable and lonely and sending an 18-year-old to live in a bedsit is maybe not such a great idea”. Other parents might have explained it as a “breakdown”. And you know, I think they’d have been right.

But my parents weren’t just furious because they didn’t know what to do with me, or worried that I might never live independently, they were mortified that I hadn’t had a glittering social life, and more importantly had never had a boyfriend. I might be on their hands for good. 

And in fact they had noticed something was wrong. My father said: "You leave late and come back early. And you don't seem to have any friends. You tend to cut yourself off from people." But by that time I couldn't reply, I was too miserable. I was convinced it was the other people who cut themselves off from me. So why were my parents so surprised?

In the end they sent me to secretarial college and I learned shorthand and typing which turned out to be extremely useful when I became a journalist in the 80s (I even recycled that Kandinsky essay). There was a basement where we hung out at lunchtime and between classes. This is where I say, like so many actors who were bullied at school, "And then I discovered I could make people laugh". I didn't know people wanted to laugh, but fortunately they do. I liked learning shorthand and reading Sherlock Holmes translated into Pitman's. 

But we just never mentioned art school again. I’ve never talked about the people I knew there. I’ve never really talked about it to anybody (apart from Charlie) – those years were just assumed not to have happened. They didn’t count. They weren’t part of my life story. But as my sister said a lot later: “People have dropped out of college and changed course before – why did they behave as if someone had died?” 

Who had died? The person they thought I was going to become – despite all evidence to the contrary. But they thought childhood didn’t count – you developed on the caterpillar, pupa, butterfly principle and your life began when you left school.

There had never been any suggestion I should go to university. But when my sister went, a few years later, she told me: “You could do it – there are people here who are stupider than you!” She gave me the UCCA guide to courses. I’d never even read the Floodlight directory of London evening classes, which was on sale in every newsagent. (UCCA is now UCAS: the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.) And hang on, why didn't the tutors at Camberwell hand me the UCCA book and suggest I look for a course that might suit me? All my parents said was: "But there must be something you want to do."

I eventually looked up classes in Floodlight, did Art History A Level in six months (it was a year’s course), got an A and went to university. Because I’d worked for three years or more, I got a grant. (Nina Stibbe in Love, Nina went through the same process, finding out about grants through word of mouth. Perhaps “they” didn’t want to advertise this loophole too widely. See also Rupert Pupkin in King of Comedy not knowing there was a comedy scene, or that he ought to submit a recording of his act to the show he wanted to be on.) 

I probably could have made it sooner – but then I wouldn’t have got the grant. And it took several years to get over the idea that I would never have friends. I wish I could apologise to those nice people who probably wondered why I wouldn’t hang out with them any more. I had no idea that they needed me as much as I needed them.

One of the Camberwell students moved to Goldsmiths College to do conceptual art. He told us it was the coming thing and the Camberwell approach was as dead as the dodo. He was right – their approach and the painters they revered went sharply out of fashion, and were only welcomed back recently. I started painting and making art again about 20 years ago. I think my old teachers might quite like my stuff

More about a privileged education here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 17 May 2022

Choose Your Words Carefully in Quotes 10

The way the Glaswegian writer speaks is largely down to his mother. She was a proud woman who insisted that he spoke the Queen’s English. “She thought regional accents would hold back your kids; that if you wanted to do well you had to talk like a BBC newscaster. So as a kid I just sounded a bit weirder than the kids around me.” 
(Guardian 2022-04-03, Douglas Stewart, author of Shuggy Bain)

When I joined the BBC in 1979, it was still very rare for a national newsreader to have a regional accent, and the first time I was interviewed for BBC Radio Stoke, the first question asked was “How can a person from Stoke on Trent (with heavy emphasis) get to be head of the BBC’s Pronunciation Unit?”... The British accents that regularly come bottom of the polls... are mostly those of industrial cities: Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow. Is the dislike caused by a perceived ugliness in the sound, or is it rather the fact that outsiders... still associate the Black Country, Merseyside, Glasgow and the East End of London with slums and ‘dark Satanic mills’? (Graham)

In the 1950s as my national (military) service was coming to an end, I needed an early release in order to start my first university term in time. I needed the Commanding Officer’s signature. He exploded into a raging fury I’ve never experienced elsewhere. “University? You can’t even speak English”. I grew up in Kent. My accent is still the same today... Like all emigrés I’m a fossil from the time I left, with 1950s slang and 1950s anything else. (Sidney Wood from Kent, who says he first heard RP from RAF officers. Fascinating discussion here.) 

An audience member quit a performance of a Shakespeare play in York because it featured Yorkshire accents, theatre staff have said. York Theatre Royal's staging of As You Like It prompted a complaint on Monday, with the theatregoer asking for a refund due to the accents being used. The Yorkshire-based company behind the show said its performances contained "unapologetic northern voices". "That's Yorkshire accents, right here in Yorkshire," the theatre's boss said. (BBC)

A while back, the CEO of a large company asked me to talk to her senior managers about the difference between marketing and marketing comms. I did a presentation for an hour, then a Q&A for half-an-hour. It seemed to go well, but afterwards, one of the senior managers took me aside. She said, “We love you Dave, but do you have to do the whole Cockney barrow-boy bit?” At first I couldn’t work out what she meant, then it clicked, she was talking about my accent. She wasn’t listening to what I said, she was listening to how I said it. And she assumed I must be putting it on for effect. (

Mum called into the living room from the kitchen in her best mock-posh. (Rob Chapman, All I Want Is Out of Here

I overheard a radio producer once saying that I had “a polytechnic accent”. (Suzanne Moore May 2022 This week academics are complaining about “accentism”.)

My wife has an RP accent; my great-uncle was pure Yorkshire. It's a good job that my father and I were present when they met, as neither of them could understand the other. (AW via Facebook. A few words rather than “complete incomprehension”? A taxi firm’s Scottish controller stumped me with “after mudnate”.)

My mother was a Yorkshire lass, working class and proud of it. But she dropped the accent, and only used it when we went to visit my grandparents. She learnt to use English with a very neutral accent and with all its consonants. (@meade_newman)

On my little island oilfield in Indonesia in the 1960s, the Field Superintendent (the most senior person there) was a Sumatran from a very high-class family. His voice was so soft that I could never manage to speak to him on the telephone because I never heard his replies so I always had to go to his office instead. (It was a pretty small outfit and that was no great hardship.) I was told that speaking softly was a sign of his high (family) status in that part of the country. (Teacup)

I work with someone like this. Promoted beyond her abilities because she speaks with a plum in her mouth. (via Twitter. That was me.)

Raised in Surrey, but lived in Hull for a while. Hull men might approach me, but would either back off or get almost aggressive once I opened my mouth. (@PenelopeClay10 Same here. She moved south again.)

Demos! Why can’t they say “demonstration” properly? I hate abbreviations. (Mrs Riseley-Porter in Agatha Christie’s Nemesis.)

A university is offering students what is believed to be the first module in chit-chat and networking. BPP University Law School has hired Georgie Nightingall, founder of Trigger Conversations, to help students have “good conversations” that “expand your perspectives and your relationships”. The university decided to launch the class after a poll found that 43% of its students feared they would be judged by the way they speak during their legal careers. (The Week. But surely social skills are so subtle and nuanced that they can’t possibly be put into words and we should all pick them up by osmosis, as I've been told?)

Barbara Windsor’s mother Rose had great ambitions for her, paying for elocution lessons in an attempt to lose her cockney accent and move her up the social ladder. Windsor later said her mother's family felt she had married beneath her... At the Aida Foster School in Golders Green, the teachers took their turn in trying to iron out her cockney accent but all failed. ( Shouldn’t that “lose” be something like “erase”? You can’t lose somebody else’s accent.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 4 May 2022

Classy Sports and Pastimes 3

People insinuating, 'I have never heard of X so I am better than you' is an even more pompous equivalent of 'What film have you never seen and still have no intention of bothering to watch, which would at least make your boast worthwhile in some way'. If only there was a way of finding out about these people you've not heard of. (Justin Lewis @WhenIsBirths, in a week when a Lord claimed not to have heard of morning TV presenter Lorraine Kelly. Perhaps this is why people assume I know nothing about popular culture and only listen to Handel and Vivaldi.)

Upwards also do competitive indifference to the royals and pageantry.

Whenever anyone marries into the royal family, the media will react by pretending she or he has “breached protocol”. They usually have no guide more recent than Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige. Tut, tut, Meghan – closing your own car door! (How furious they must be that Meghan, sensible woman, has gone entirely beyond their reach.)

The Times on The Crown: The Queen doesn’t really set protocol traps for visitors.

The Times on how to survive a weekend at a country house, paraphrased. (Nobody really calls it a "hice".)

Don’t be early or late. 

Come primed with gossip and anecdotes so that you can “sing for your supper”.

Bring clothes for all possible eventualities. (This is how posh people talk – it’s catching.)

Bring outdoor shoes or wellies (rubber Wellington boots), but “only Le Chameau wellies or Dubarry boots will do; absolutely not Hunter”. (Me neither.)

“If you are staying in a castle, the bedrooms will be too cold. If you are staying with a billionaire, they will be too hot.” Posh houses used to be absolutely freezing, while “new money” houses had central heating “turned up full blast”. They used to keep it on 24 hours a day, which meant they provided hardly any bedclothes.

Nobody will be introduced, so you have to guess who they are. Assume they are somebody important.

If you’re seated next to the host, “do not stop talking. Have questions to hand such as ‘What are you watching on telly at the moment?’.” (See Julian Fellowes’ Snobs for the laboured, vacuous dinner-table chat of the truly posh.)

Make friends with the dogs, but don’t address them in “stupid baby voices”.

Tip staff: £20 per person per room, in cash. That’s what the paperweight on the dressing table is for. 

Immediately email your thanks, and follow it up with a letter.

Upwards never go to “popular beauty spots”, or to marinas. They are too poor to own yachts. In the 60s, they went to Tuscany, but never to Portofino or Rapallo. Samantha Upward confuses the yacht harbour with Ravenna, where there are some mosaics that you simply must see.

In March 2020, during lockdown, middle-class Brits went back to a way of life not seen since the 50s and 60s – they stayed at home and had everything delivered, and cooked their own lunch. In the 70s, we used to wish that Britain had a café culture. Now it does, and we’ve become used to living in public. Fifties housewives really were stuck at home. People “kept themselves to themselves”. Without social media or even a TV, families were cut off from the wider society and parents could fill their children’s heads with any old rubbish. Upwards, Weybridges and Teales trod a careful path, avoiding anybody who wasn’t exactly “our sort”. Some people were so sure there was nobody worth mingling with that they had no friends and no social contacts at all.

In 2019, Samantha is very into “wassailing” – a revived ceremony encouraging fruit trees to produce. Her cousin Arkana runs it, wearing a green velvet cloak, a wide-brimmed hat and leaves painted on her cheeks. She teaches everybody the songs and dances, and there are craft and food stalls and activities for the kids.

Open fires are cosy, but Upwards have to reinvent them as “hygge”. (The fad has passed, 2020.)

Samantha is still rather shocked that people go to “pop concerts”. Concerts are string quartets and silent audiences in neat clothes.

No Upward can go in for Motocross. Or go to classes to learn “club dancing”. Everybody else has far more fun than we do!

If a Teale teenager fancies kayaking, she finds and joins a local kayaking club that meets at a nearby lake or reservoir. Upwards only kayak on dangerous activity holidays – on stretches of open sea. They don’t even know that every activity will have a local club, and don’t go to nearby lakes because they are too popular. They don’t really do “activities” anyway. It takes them some time to work out how narrow their horizons are, and how many other worlds there are out there, possibly because they are constantly told that they are “privileged”. They are also told that there is something dangerous and contaminating about the rest of society. Bryony Teale gets sponsorship of her sport and becomes an Olympian.

Swimming in rivers is fun. The Upwards rechristen it “wild swimming” – but there’s so much sewage in rivers in 2022 that this pastime is impossible. Upwards go for hearty walks but barely talk to people they meet.

Weybridges can afford a pool, and Eileen loves going for a dip. Howard adores adding chlorine and anti-fungal preparations, warning visitors not to get hair in the filter, and yelling at children for splashing the surround or kicking gravel into the water. (There is a strip of gravel beyond the concrete tiles, put there specifically so that it will be very difficult to avoid kicking pebbles in the pool. The possibilities for making visitors feel awkward and guilty are endless.) He has a special rake for removing leaves, and thinks the pool looks best with its cover on for the winter.

In 2020, Upwards are sneering about the crowds on beaches breaking social distancing rules. They never go to packed beaches, they are always looking for a strand that’s deserted apart from themselves. They’re deeply shocked that the Definitelies all go to the same “beauty spot” and bring supplies of alcohol. Stow Crat children neck vodka from the bottle at beach parties with bonfires. 

July 2020 and the Tories are launching an anti-obesity drive. Couch-potato, junk-food eating chavs get ill and put on a strain on the NHS which is paid for by our tax dollars. Islington is full of fit-looking runners – are they sculpting their bodies to prove their membership of the middle class? Or are they set-dressing to show that the area has gentrified?

Once we're adults, our culture tells us to turn play into Serious Work to Sculpt Your Body and Achieve Results. (@fatnutritionist. I remember girls at school who asked of every PE exercise: "Will it give me muscly legs?" – a fate worse than death.)